Israel’s military is not only the most powerful in the Middle East, but also the only one in the world to proudly include soldiers with disabilities in its ranks. In a heartwarming and meaningful commencement ceremony for IAF pilots today, Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with soldiers from the Special in Uniform program and awarded them special recognition. Special in Uniform is an innovative program of the Israel Defense Forces in partnership with Lend-A-Hand to A Special Child and the Jewish National Fund (JNF-USA) that integrates young people with disabilities into the military.

One of the soldiers is a young man on the autistic spectrum named Oria Sagie. Several years ago, when Sagie received his exemption letter from the army, he objected, insisting that the army accept him as a volunteer. He was recruited into the Special in Uniform program, and last month, after a long and determined struggle, he finally persevered when he was awarded his Teudat Hoger, an army identification card, that names Oria a full-fledged IDF soldier.

Sagie has a special message to relay to other Israeli youth with disabilities: “We have to try to the extent that we can to enter so-called ‘normal’ society and work hard to support the revolution that we are starting in Israel and around the world. We are part of this society. We have to keep going and keep fighting!”

“Today is a special day reflecting our commitment to the inclusion of people with disabilities,” said Lt. Col. (Res.) Tiran Attia, director of Special in Uniform. “Here, we’re making a difference and empowering Israeli society. Many soldiers with special needs who would otherwise be exempt from military service have found their place in Special in Uniform. We operate in 28 IDF bases, including a unit of soldiers with disabilities who are stationed right here on the Hatzerim Air Force Base.”

“When individuals with special needs see a boy on the autistic spectrum, like Sagie, coming home on Friday in uniform and learn that they can also continue from the military into the civilian workforce, it has an enormous influence and inspires them to take the step toward full integration.”